Sharing Success

Motivating Generation Y

I recently attended a conference and saw an interesting presentation by a guy named Jason Ryan Dorsey about motivating Generation Y employees. If you are not familiar with the term, “Generation Y” (Gen Y) refers to the youngest generation of work-aged adults, born between 1977 and 1995.

The presentation caught my attention because of conversations I had with pizzeria owners at the Pizza Expo last March. Many owners mentioned that it is becoming more of a struggle to motivate young employees to provide even adequate customer service.

I remember talking to one operator who was frustrated that he could not figure out how Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger “find” young people so good with customers.

This resonated with me. Whenever my sons and I grab a burger at In-N-Out, I have noticed that their employees seem to genuinely enjoy their work, whether preparing our order or hand-chopping fresh potatoes for French fries. While I am less familiar with Chick-fil-A, the few times that I have been, I noticed a high level of service and employee politeness. I am particularly impressed that every employee replies with “My Pleasure” whenever customers thank them for responding to a request.

According to Dorsey, every generation of workers tends to develop its own set of attitudes about life and work, depending on what was happening in the world around them while they were growing up, specifically, at home within their family.

So the key to successfully motivating Gen Y employees today is to better understand their attitudes toward work and what led them to this perspective. (By the way, virtually all Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out employees are Gen Y.)

For example, during the relative “boom time” economy of the 1950s and 1960s, Baby Boomer children of Depression era parents grew up experiencing firsthand how hard work by their parents lifted their family’s standard of living. Therefore, Baby Boomers learned to measure personal “success” in terms of career and financial achievements.

On the other hand, during Gen Y’s formative years in the 1990s and 2000s, many watched parents who were dedicated to lifelong careers lose jobs and/or savings due to events beyond their control, such as corporate layoffs, stock market crashes, housing meltdowns, etc.

As a result, Gen Y has grown up believing that financial and job uncertainties are facts of life. So instead of focusing on “career growth” or “financial achievement” that might not pay off, many have chosen to develop meaningful personal lives, regardless of what their economic situation might be.

What does this mean for you and for me as their employers? According to Mr. Dorsey, “Baby Boomer” and “Generation X” bosses are often puzzled and frustrated when Gen Y employees appear far less “achievement oriented” and unmotivated by the fear of potential job loss than they were at the same age.

However, while Gen Y may not seem as outwardly career driven, Dorsey says their desire to “make a difference” in their personal lives can make them highly motivated employees in jobs where the following conditions are true:

• The organization they represent “stands for something important.”

• They can take pride in the quality of their work and the products/services offered by their company.

• They clearly understand how their job plays a part in satisfying the expectations of the customer.

• They feel “ownership” over how they achieve results.

Not only does this seem to describe how Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger employees feel about their jobs, it is my experience that when these four conditions are true, you will naturally attract high performing employees … regardless of what generational group they may belong to!

The fact is that most people are happiest working when they know their work is appreciated and it makes a difference!

That is why I believe smart business owners constantly clarify for their teams what values their businesses embrace, how each employee directly impacts customer satisfaction, and how their personal contribution is appreciated!

Of course, any business can claim to embrace quality and service excellence. Whether employees of any generation actually buy into those elevated standards largely depends on the degree to which you, as the owner, consistently walk your talk!